Understanding OCD

Obsessive-compulsive disorder, or OCD, affects over 2 million Americans and is characterized by a high level of anxiety that results in an uncontrollable desire to repeat certain actions. For example, someone with OCD may wash their hands repeatedly if they are afraid of germs, or they might habitually check and re-check that they’ve locked their doors and windows if they are worried about intruders. Being anxious is not in and of itself a sign of OCD; when the anxiety starts to consume a person and the repetitive behaviors they establish to help deal with the obsession interfere with daily life it becomes a problem. Many healthy people have anxiety, but it does not keep them from functioning normally, whereas someone with OCD finds the repetitive behaviors they are compelled to perform distressing.

Given that over one-third of adults with OCD had symptoms as a child, it is not typically a condition associated with aging. Some scientists also believe it has a genetic component due to this tendency to strike at a young age. For some people, symptoms improve as they get older; for others, the disorder can become more and more severe.

If you notice that your elderly loved one has started to show signs of OCD, it could be the result of Alzheimer’s disease or dementia. Have a doctor examine them to help identify the root cause. It is important to monitor the behaviors of your loved one to make sure their repetitive actions aren’t putting them or others in danger. If they seem distressed about their condition, certain treatments involving medication and/or therapy have been successful at reducing the urges associated with OCD.

For more information, read’s article Obsessive Compulsive Behavior in Elders or visit the Alzheimer’s Association’s website.